California officials announced further water usage restrictions on Friday, this time aimed mostly at farmers in the San Joaquin and Sacramento areas. More than 100 water rights holders who gained access after 1903 will have to reduce their water usage significantly, which could lead to fallow croplands in an area that has mostly been exempt from water restrictions. This is the latest in the desperate attempt to save California from the effects of ever-worsening drought conditions.
Last month, about half of the 400 farmers in the nearby delta region voluntarily pledged to cut water usage by 25 percent, but that wasn’t enough to significantly change projections for the future. The cutbacks apply specifically to surface water, and most farmers have been expecting news like this to come at some point. In preparation, farmers have begun drilling deeper wells to tap into groundwater reserves, causing California to sink farther and faster than before.
The effects of last week’s announced cuts are a bit of an unknown, and there has been criticism that the state does not even have the authority to make cuts to water rights issued in 1903, since the state didn’t begin managing water rights until 1914. That question will likely be resolved in litigation, and it doesn’t necessarily seem that critics are claiming the water restrictions themselves are unjust, but instead wanting to fight the new policy as a matter of principle. Going forward, state officials will evaluate the need for additional cuts on a weekly basis, in an effort to find balance between rationing available water and keeping California’s farmers in business.